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Nelson, M.C. (1967). On the Therapeutic Redirection of Energy and Affects. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 48:1-15.

(1967). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 48:1-15

On the Therapeutic Redirection of Energy and Affects

Marie Coleman Nelson


When the analyst speaks of the attainment of insight by the patient, he refers to the outcome of a complex series of events which, like the proverbial iceberg, remain seven-eighths submerged. In attempting to understand the therapeutic process he becomes sensitized to changes in the patient's general tonus and energy level, not only at different stages of treatment but within a single analytic session. Patients manifestly operate with varying degrees of energy, but within each individual fluctuations naturally occur. For example, it is possible for the patient to feel very energetic yet to have a minimum of psychic energy available for the work of analysis; conversely, a state of physical depletion may go hand in hand with an unusual surge of psychic power. To the extent that affectivity signifies the mobilization of physical and/or psychic energy there appears to be no reliable correlation between affect release and insight, unless the release occurs in conjunction with an insight and both follow a phase of generalized inhibition due to resistance.

To use the terms affect and energy so freely and to speak of energy as though it were virtually tangible invites a charge of scientific impropriety. In defence I call attention to ordinary parlance, which employs the perfectly respectable adjective, energetic, not to mean emotional or demonstrative, but rather forceful and vigorous. Using the word in this original Aristotelian sense, I would propose that treatment, to be effective, must (a) raise the energy potential of the patient who lacks force and vigour, and (b) equip the overly-energetic patient to expend more of his action-directed energy in the contemplative sphere.

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